One ball's journey to the World Cup
Spirit of Football
Alive & Kicking's 250,000th ball continues its journey with the Spirit of Football to the World Cup opening ceremony in Johannesburg.
Balls to Africa part 1: From Battersea to Belgium en route to Africa
Holland No ball has ever been as confused as I was at the Leonardo Da Vinco Sports School in Leiden, Holland. Not since the Champions League ball at the Dragoa in Portugal anyway – the one that left Porto's right wing on a slow cross to Fabianski and somehow ended up in the back of Arsenal's net.
After spending a few days resting in the snow in Amsterdam we travelled to a school where we were warmly welcomed as guests. It wasn't my place to call the shots, but surely Dutch schoolkids would rather search for the meaning of Winston Bogarde's career at Chelsea than be taught about Germany’s three World Cup wins?
Sven from Spirit of Football was taking the lesson while I wondered if he realised that the Germans turned the Dutch over on their way to winning both the 1974 and 1990 World Cup finals. It seems he did and I was wrong; the kids loved talking football, even if it did mean going over exactly how Germany snuffed out their country's revolutionary brand of Total Football on the world's biggest stage.
GermanyOur arrival in Cologne coincided with the finals of a street football tournament organised by Koln Kickt, an organisation that supports disadvantaged immigrant kids. Project leader and former Cologne, Leverkusen and Congo player Jose Londji introduced Andrew, Sven and me to German freestyle football champion Dominik Kaiser, who used me to show off his exceptional skills to the crowd.
Mind you, I'm not sure how he’d do in a real game. I reckon the opposition would be more interested in kicking him, like in this clip, than me. Once Dominik had finished, nobody knew whether to clap or throw him a fish.
With that we headed east to Erfut to meet Christian from Spirit of Football. He'd driven all the way from Brighton for 12 hours non-stop. By the time he arrived he looked like Rafa Benitez after a sleepless night spent mulling over how many Aaron Ramseys he could have bought for the price of an Aquilani.
It was in Erfut that we met Roots of Liberty Life featuring Ry, who'd written a song about my journey to the World Cup called Fans Will Be Friends. I was touched. Maybe they ought to perform it before the game the next time Millwall go to Upton Park.
ItalyOur next destination was to be Milan's San Siro, via Austria and Switzerland, but first a visit to the Rheinpark Stadion in Liechtenstein. Any ball that turns up there expects to hit the net a few times and I was no exception.
Obviously, the Liechtenstein defence weren't here to stop me, not that it normally makes any difference, but for a country with such small resources their results are gradually improving, as demonstrated by their draw 1-1 with Finland last year.
One thing I learnt in Italy is that it's perfectly acceptable for men to walk around with a man-bag draped over their shoulder, but try and get into a football stadium with a ball and the police start reaching down to their holsters. So I was hurriedly put into Andrew from Spirit of Football's bag until we got through the San Siro turnstile for Inter Milan's 3-0 win over Cagliari.
The next day I was fortunate enough to meet Inter and Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar at Inter's snow-covered training ground. He spoke at great length, but us footballs don't speak goalkeeper, so I've no idea what he said, although I did feel a great deal safer in his hands than in Andrew's man-bag.
Julio took the time to write his signature on me. My leather panels have been tattooed with many signatures during the trip so far, but not with one that comes from a hand that has strong hopes of lifting the World Cup later this year.
Our trip is being filmed and at the end of each link I’m kicked off-screen. Julio agreed to do the honours, but his minder was having none of it, claiming he could injure himself. I wondered how often a minder has put a stop to a good kicking? Taking on board his minder's advice, Julio headed me on my way.
Next stop: Monaco.
Part 1: From Battersea to Belgium en route to AfricaBalls to Africa home
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